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Making Spiritual Sense: On “The Two-Winged Gospel”

I have been on eleven airplanes in the last three weeks and traveled approximately twenty-two thousand miles.  Traveling by air still seems like an engineering impossibility, regardless of how often it is explained to me.  Nevertheless, I have surmised that the simplest explanation is that a plane will never leave the ground without the proper angling of the wings.  And even more simplistic than this, without both wings, it will never take off; more importantly, without both wings, I am not traveling on it.  Would you travel on an airplane without both wings securely attached?

Carlos René Padilla has been credited as one of the founders of the concept of integral mission, a perspective that intertwines both the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel. Padilla further posits that one without the other would be incomplete and, more boldly, a mutilation of the gospel and contrary to the will of God.[1]  David Kirkpatrick concedes the following regarding integral mission: “From this perspective, it is foolish to ask about the relative importance of evangelism and social responsibility. This concept would be equivalent to asking about the relative importance of a plane’s right and left wings.”[2]  In other words, both are needed and important. However, I am concerned that those entrusted to my care are flying with only one wing, giving more attention to evangelism or justice. And as a result, they have bought into the lie that to have one wing is all we need to serve Jesus, reach people, and build His Kingdom.

As I connect with pastors, leaders, and laity, I have been struck by not only the lack of recognition and practice of both winged gospel – evangelism and social responsibility but also the open hostility towards the position opposite of their own.  At some point in our theological development, we assumed that a one-wing approach to traveling in the Kingdom was enough or all that mattered.

As I think of the mission mandates of Jesus, I am convicted and convinced that His Kingdom message was not an either-or but a both-and mandate. The mission mandates are a both winged gospel, evangelism, and social responsibility. Consider the six great mandates we find in the following familiar scriptures.

1. Great Commission Mandate: Matthew 28:18-19

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

One can easily infer the wing of evangelism is assumed through the call to make disciples, but discipleship does not end there. What does discipleship mean if it ends at baptism, which most Christian faiths would agree equates to or represents a person’s commitment to Christ and salvation? Or if it ignores the cultural complexities of reaching the nations? Discipleship must also include the obedience of all His commands, including loving the least of these (Matthew 25:31-46). If we focus on one wing over the other, are we not rigging the game toward what we find most comfortable obeying?

 2. Great Commandment Mandate: Matthew 22: 36-40  

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus emphasizes the need for personal relationship and responsibility and the witness of love towards neighbors. And if you were to investigate the source of this commandment further, Jesus infers both wings of the gospel when it comes to loving our neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:9-18).

 3. Great Prayer Mandate: John 17:20-23 

“I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Unity is not based solely on evangelism but on recognizing that the gospel is intended to reach people with different perspectives and preferences who find a more significant, uniting hope in Jesus. Unity is having the same conviction about the gospel and the same understanding of its importance and then attempting to think about everything else in line with it. Therefore, the prayer of unity is a social witness of who Jesus is, what He values, and how he demonstrates that value to the world.

4. Great Calling Mandate: Luke 4:18-19 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 

In the inaugural message of Jesus, He purposefully reintroduces the truth of the role of

the Messiah and the mission of His Kingdom by referencing Isaiah 61. This passage aligns the good news (gospel) as an answer to the longings and losses of the people entrusted to His care, including the marginalized. 

Another mandate is to consider the need for both our wings to be present. 

 5. Great Love: John 3:16-17

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

God’s great love for us is both personal and communal. It is easy for us to stop at verse 16 as if all the responsibility is upon Jesus. However, I would argue that the message of verse 17 completes the idea of what it means to be sent into the world. The witness of His non-condemning love is seen through the hands, hearts, mouths, feet, and pocketbooks of God’s people. 

And one final great mandate to consider.

6. Great Calling: Mark 1:14-15

Now after Jesus was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The great calling of Jesus is what He has called us to complete.  Two wings of the gospel God calls us to steward and care for as we invite others to travel with us in the Kingdom. 

We must begin to see the beauty of the gospel as both a salvation by grace and social compassion.  The mission mandates remind us that the gospel is more than just getting people into heaven but also getting heaven into the whole of humanity.  And as Romero states in his book Brown Church, “the mission of the whole church to the whole of humanity in all its forms, personal, communal, social, economic, ecological, and political.”[3]

Could the neglect of seeing both wings of the gospel – evangelism and justice- have made us ineffective?  Could disregarding the above mission mandates have weakened our witness to the world?  After all, who would want to travel on a plane without both wings?

[1] Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2020), 159.

[2] Kirkpatrick, David C. “C. René Padilla and the Origins of Integral Mission in Post-War Latin America.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 67, no. 2 (2016): 368.

[3] Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2020), 38.

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